Mining Protests in Colombia Leave at Least One Dead

Mining Protests in Colombia Leave at Least One Dead
Independent miners in Colombia. Photo : La FM

ZARAGOZA, ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA -- At least one person has died and several have been arrested in protests that began in July, in which hundreds of independent miners are demanding that the government recognize their right to work independently in the region.

According to Santiago Londoño, the Lieutenant Governor of the state of Antioquia in Northwest Colombia, where Zaragoza is located, things got out of control Wednesday night when unidentified men threw stun bombs, normally used by the police, at the Zaragoza town hall.

One person died in the events. The exact cause of his death is being investigated.

“The situation is under control,” stated Londoño, “but it is very tense,”

As a result of the disturbances, civil authorities have declared a curfew in Zaragoza until next Monday.

The Vice-Minister of Mining and Energy, Natalia Gutiérrez, condemned the incident and said that although talks with the miners, which were scheduled to reconvene today, remain open, the government will not negotiate with those who “threaten mayors, risk public safety or block roadways.”

She continued, “Among all of the mine workers, there are independent miners, but there are also many criminals dressed as independent miners.”

The National Miners Confederation, which represents 200,000 persons, from mine owners to formal and informal mine workers, has called for the repeal of Decree #2235, that authorizes the destruction of tools and machinery used by miners who do not have licenses.

Protesters are also demanding the government create special mining zones for independent miners, issue titles for the land they work, and clarify environmental codes.

Last Thursday talks broke down when miners learned that the government would recognize only the independent miners who could claim that mining was part of their ancestral heritage, and would exclude anyone who has only began to mine in the last two years.

The Santos government is promoting the development of large scale mining with multinational mining companies. In 2012 the mining sector was the largest contributor to the growth in Colombia’s GDP, with an increase of 5.9%.